Tindley Schools, the charter school group that has run Arlington High School in Indianapolis for two years under a contract with the state, said today it wants out.
The leader of the nonprofit group that also operates a network of Indianapolis charter schools told the Indiana State Board of Education Tindley simply couldn’t afford to keep managing the school unless it received an additional $2.4 million in aid. Otherwise it would have to subsidize the cost of running the takeover school with money earmarked for the charter schools it runs.
Tindley CEO Marcus Robinson said he’s not willing to do that.
“We made a promise before we started,” he said. “Tindley is a small non-profit. It is not some big corporate conglomerate or an entity that can afford to take $1 million or a half million dollars to prop up an operation. Does the charter school need to carry the turnaround school? The answer to that is that cannot be.”
After the state board balked at Tindley’s request to add more money for Arlington, Robinson instead proposed a year-long transition to hand the school back to Indianapolis Public Schools.
If not, Robinson said, he would exercise an option to end Tindley’s contract within 60 days.
“There is no way I put my team in that building without some clarity about what happens after this year,” he said.
State board members, appearing caught off guard, ultimately decided to establish a task force with representatives of Tindley, IPS, Mayor Greg Ballard’s office, Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation and the Indiana Department of Education to work on a “transition plan” for Arlington.
“You can’t hold the young people you committed to serve hostage,” a frustrated state board member Dan Elsener said during the debate.
Ritz asked that the committee meet and complete a plan in a short nine-day window by July 18.
Arlington is one of five Indiana schools — four in Indianapolis and one in Gary — that were taken over by the state after six straight years of F grades in 2011.
Since the takeover, all of the schools have remained among the worst performers on state tests and none has risen above an F. Arlington’s modest test score gains, however, were the biggest of the group.
But funding has been a problem from the start. Under former Superintendent Eugene White, IPS pledged to compete with the takeover schools by aggressively recruiting their students to other IPS schools. It worked. After the takeovers, a fraction of the enrollment remained at the schools.
Because state funding is heavily based on enrollment count, the takeover groups faced the danger of far less money to operate the schools than they anticipated. In fact, when the state board at Bennett’s urging funded the takeovers at the same amount as the prior year to start, IPS sued and won.
Robinson said federal school improvement grants were a way to fill the gap, describing the expectation that the takeover schools would continue receiving them as “an enticement from prior administration to get groups to take over these schools.”
But the grants are not guaranteed. A similar dynamic played out last summer, when Tindley said it would invoke the out clause in its contract if the state education department, which was late issuing grant notifications, did not award the school one of them.
After it won the grant, which is administered by the state through a competitive process, Tindley was satisfied.
This year, Tindley’s grant will be less than the $1.3 million it received lass year.
That and other factors mean “the operational overhead outstrips revenue generated by students assigned to the school,” the letter states.
Since then, Robinson said he had discussions with IPS about ways the two groups might work together that he was hopeful would lead to “creative solutions” that might relieve some of the financial pressure on Tindley.
Even so, Robinson was counting on relief in the form of extra money from the state in response to his letter. But board members said the only way to give Arlington more was to take money from other schools that would receive the grants. The state board doesn’t have the leeway to assign other funds to the school.
When the board voted down Tindley’s request, Robinson shifted tone immediately, saying instead he wanted transition the school back to IPS for the 2015-16 school year.
Board member Sarah O’Brien cautioned that she wasn’t sure returning the school to IPS was the best option, or that a decision to move in that direction should be made hastily. Other options for a school in state takeover that the board could choose include merging it with a higher scoring school, closing it or turning it into a charter school.
She and others also noted that IPS officials were not present and Tindley had no formal agreement with the district.
“My hesitation is we are being asked to vote for a partnership that may or may not exist,” she said.
The task force is charged with figuring that out.
The operator of three other former IPS schools in state takeover — Donnan middle school and Howe and Manual high schools — said there is no danger it would walk away from the schools.
“CSUSA remains fully committed to educating our students in Indianapolis and the actions and discussions at today’s State Board of Education meeting don’t change that,” the Florida-based company said in a statement.